Morus bassanus (Northern gannet)

What do they look like?

One of Britain’s largest seabirds, the Northern gannet is bright white with distinctive black wingtips and a yellow head. When flying, they alternate between flapping and gliding, swooping low over the water. They feed by circling high above the waves, before folding their wings back and diving into the water headfirst at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour.

Young gannets are dark brown in colour at a year old and, over 3-5 years, will gradually moult this dark plumage and switch it for white as they develop into mature adults.

An illustration depicting the 5 year change in Northern gannet plumage from year 1 (juvenile, fully dark plumage) to adult (full white with black wingtips)
Northern gannets undergo a gradual change in plumage colour over a period of around 5 years as they mature.
Illustrations (c) Emma Marriott

When can I see them in Scotland?

February – October

Where can I see them in Scotland?

Scotland is home to around 60% of Europe’s gannets and from February onwards they return to key breeding sites around the coast, including the Bass Rock which is the world's largest colony of Northern gannets. These seabirds favour coastal cliffs and remote islands, with large breeding colonies established around Troop Head, St Kilda and in the Northern Isles.

Conservation Status:

In the UK, bird species with breeding, passage or wintering populations are assessed by experts and assigned to the Red, Amber or Green lists of conservation concern. Northern gannets are currently an ‘Amber’ listed species.

172 cm
42-46 days
84-97 days
17 years
Average Lifespan
Gannets and gugas on bass rock

Adopt a Bass Rock gannet
Help protect the wildlife you love by gifting a wildlife adoption pack. Choose from a gannet, puffin or grey seal. Funds from our wildlife adoptions provide vital support for our marine conservation and education work.

Adopt a Bass Rock gannet and help us protect their marine home by supporting our conservation and education projects.

Wildlife Boat Trips
Experience the spectacular seabird breeding season up close from one of our seasonal boat trips. Gannets begin to return to the Bass Rock in mid-late February and the colony is at its peak over the summer months as it swells with birds to form the largest Northern Gannet colony in the world!

2 Northern gannets crossing beaks
© Paul Hackett